All your kern are belong to us
This was originally posted at Helveti.ca on August 6th, 2006. I removed it to keep the focus on helvetica related news.
There’s something to be said for lusting after beautiful type. You’d be hard-pressed to find a designer that doesn’t have an unhealthy obsession with letterforms. As to what causes this affliction, it’s difficult to say. For some it was that overbearing professor in college, while others were bitching out their pre-school teachers for not properly kerning the flashcards.
My earliest experiences with typography were somewhat illicit. In the pre-PC days, my mom used Letraset transfers to avoid doing lettering work by hand. Of course, those sheets of characters were completely off-limits to me — in kidspeak that means I had to have them. There’s also something intensely gratifying about rubbing a sheet of wax paper and having fully formed letters appear on the paper below.
Further typographic growth was largely stunted until my exposure to the world of electronic publishing. In my last year of elementary school, I co-opted the newsletter from the Vice-Principal and organized a team of students to run it. The first issue ended up being a collage-style photocopy monstrosity. Three months later, Microsoft Publisher 2.0 was our bitch… justified text, clipart, you name it.
In high-school, it was more of the same. A couple of teacher’s strikes plus work-to-rule, left a small cabal of punks in charge of the school yearbook rather than the usual club. It was my first print-shop experience, we worked with a local outfit rather than a national organization. The end result consisted of two dirty grunge yearbooks designed in Photoshop.
University brought four more years of education and yet another publication take over. In the final year of my compsci degree, I ended up editing one of two large campus newspapers — Golden Words, the engineering society’s humour rag. Over my four years, I watched it progress from layout with wax and flats to a full-fledged Adobe CS workflow. The production process was daunting, but fun. We usually started around noon on Sunday and ended in the wee hours of Monday morning, whenever the paper was finished.
We bought our first family computer when I was in high-school. About a year later came dial-up, with its seedy underworld of Z’s and pirated software. The purchase of a spiffy cd-r, thrust me into the world of Photoshop, and weird Streamline-Illustrator-Fontographer workflows.
Around the time I was starting to screw around with the ill-gotten software, Swanky.org was hitting it’s heyday. For the uninitiated, Swanky was the ubercool collective of young designers, writers and typographers that everyone wanted to be part of. It was home to a variety of projects, including the Sound of Print and Final. Swanky ended up collapsing before I had the chops to become part of the Swankarmy. That said, the site had a large influence on my early artwork and motivated me to create a number of typefaces.
After the collapse of Swanky, I hooked up with another art group that formed in its wake at Suffocate.org. We produced regular theme-based issues, as well as a variety of side-projects. It exposed me to a lot of great artists and people who had a much better grasp of typographic principles.
At some point, I began to realize how much effort and work was involved in creating a usable typeface. To produce my crappy fonts, it generally took at least a couple days of good solid labour. I joined the crew at Fontmonster to distribute my creations, but it made me feel like a bit of a hack. So, I gave up on producing any typefaces until I had the time to do it properly. All-in-all, I have the utmost respect for typographers and can understand why they spend months, if not years, on a single character.